Here’s a guest post from the fabulous Ceri Elms. Ceri talks about how she’s managed to make the shift from her previous career to a new one as TV Producer/Festival Co-ordinator/Birthing Educator. A two parter this one deals more about the ‘journey’ of finding work and the next post will be about how Ceri has developed a new portfolio career. Over to Ceri…
I have been swallowed up by a world of work lately, which is a bloody brilliant turnaround from just a few months ago when I was seriously worried about finding work – especially of the creatively fulfilling/lights a fire in my belly kind, doubting myself and my abilities to the point of believing I didn’t deserve to find work (totally ridiculous) and frantically searching and applying for all and any job within a 100 mile radius of my cottage. I went from massive highs when I got offers of interviews, or found a job description that gave me hope, to huge pits of lowness when I didn’t get the jobs I thought I would be ideally suited to, or even worse, when I didn’t even get a reply from an application that I had spent time and a lot of thought on. Sounds familiar, right?
Going back to work after maternity leave is hard. Much harder than I ever imagined. It’s not just the change in your life, which is monumental – you now have a dependant and your priorities have shifted forever. But you also need a degree of flexibility, heck, you need and deserve flexible working. A pattern of working that enables you to carry out your parent duties and carry out your work duties, with both areas understanding the importance of the other, but able to adapt when necessary if one area takes precedence over the other: flexibility. You would think in this modern day and age this sort of work would be widely available, recognising the many skills, experience and worth of mums returning to the workplace, and adapting to help them enter back into jobs that they will thrive in and that need the multi-tasking, experienced skills that they have to offer.
Yeah right. Flexible working jobs are few and far between, especially in the rural idyll I have chosen to bring my son up in. Cities do fare slightly better but it still isn’t common place and the number of mums I know struggling to find a balance between work and family commitments, or who have had to completely change careers and take up junior roles and even jobs that they don’t want to do just to make ends meet, or even had to give up working altogether as the pay barely (or doesn’t) cover childcare expenditure, is shocking.
I searched for jobs in my main field, came up against a lot of ‘we need someone full time and able to work long hours and weekends…’, which just isn’t me anymore. I can’t work the hours I used to at the drop of a hat (and actually, really truthfully, I don’t want to either as I want to see and spend time with my son everyday – if that seems unrealistic or unreasonable then we have bigger problems to address in society). Like many working mums, I have to sort out childcare and I have a toddler who I want to spend time with every day (and not just see as he is already fast asleep if I can help it), and I want to find the balance of work and life that I know I can have and that I, and all parents, deserve to have. Idealistic? Possibly. But it shouldn’t be. It should be a reality. A norm. A standard to live by.
I then started to look in related areas where I thought my skills would be applicable, and had a bit more success, but felt a bit lost to be honest, un-sure of what I was in terms of my work self anymore, and un-certain of which path to take in unknown career territory.
I had chats. Really good chats where I connected with the interviewer and had good ideas and relevant experience etc… bla bla bla…but then the projects/jobs/opportunities never went any further, or where the start date kept getting pushed back to the point I realised they were probably just not going to materialise (and most didn’t). Some of them were such good chats that I just knew they were worth having and were hopefully just the start of a long game that would pay off in the future…and for some of them, I was right, as those seeds have now bloomed and I am enjoying the fruits of my earlier labour at last. But that didn’t help me much at the time as I needed a job. For money yes, but also for me.
I wasn’t finding much in the way of permanent or secure work, just the odd project here and there which did feed my soul, but it didn’t feed my bank balance or get me any closer to finding a new career path, so I thought perhaps what I needed to do was just get a job, any job and then figure out the next move from a place of job security. Easy.
Ha! How wrong was I! It was the wrong time of the year, and I felt like the wrong fit for every job I went for, and there actually aren’t as many jobs out there (especially in the country side) as I had perhaps naively thought. I cast my net too far and too wide, I know that now, but at the time, I just wanted a job to boost my bank balance and my self-esteem (and yes also my ego).
I couldn’t find anyone to take me on. I tried all the usual online job sites, recruitment agencies, local jobs boards, popped into local shops/places of business that I could see myself happy to work in for a while. Nada. Nothing. My ego took a massive blow and I felt like crap.
I re-wrote my CV about 10 times (no exaggeration), adapting it for a range of different roles and responsibilities, making it sound less senior for more junior roles and bigging up on my management experience for other roles and so on. I got to the point where I was starting to loathe my past self and everything I had ever done as it had got me to this no-(wo)man’s land and I felt utterly lost and all at sea.
I was doing everything I could to keep my head up and my spirits high, when all I really wanted to do was to curl up into a ball and scold myself for being so rubbish/un-impressive/irrelevant/worthless etc…Dark times. Then I got thrown a lifeline. It wasn’t my dream job, but it was a job and it was local and flexible and part time and the bosses were lovely. So the following week I started training in making proper coffee and donned an apron at my new hospitality job. I was proud to be employed and so grateful that someone had finally taken a chance on me, the working mum who had lost her mojo and that no-one else seemed to want.
From this point, my luck changed – or rather, the work I had been putting in to find work, started to pay off. I got a freelance job I really wanted and had been trying to get for nearly a year and got asked back to do another freelance role I did the previous year and loved, and I started getting TV work again, like I used to do in the days before kids, but flexible. It was actual flexible working, by amazing companies who recognise that the right people are worth mixing up regular day-to-day office working patterns for, and that most of the work we do these days can be done remotely, or in flexible hours – so perhaps early in the morning, or late in the evening around childcare logistics, putting your baby to bed and so on… I had found the holy grail of #workthatworks finally.
The companies I am fortunate enough to now still be working with on and off, are pioneers, and I am so happy to have found them and that they found, and believed in me, and I really hope this way of working continues. My mojo is back, my ego is happy, and I am back on fire. I am spinning plates and juggling multiple projects but I love it. And it all fits in around my family, as honestly and importantly, they come first, and these employers understand that, as they have families too. They appreciate that just because you are a parent and want and need to work different hours to the 9-5pm status quo, doesn’t mean that you won’t work as hard, if not harder than you did before, and that actually flexible working has its advantages on both sides.
I may be working all day some days and then collecting my son and being a mum until he is happily asleep, and then tapping away on my laptop into the early morning but I am creatively satisfied, working harder than I ever have (as I still feel that I have something to prove in making this work) and hopefully encouraging more of the companies I work for to embrace flexible and remote working for mums (and dads too). And I still have my dedicated family days where I am all mum and my focus is entirely on my little boy, it’s a balance that I have longed for and long may it stay.
I am excited about the connections I am making and the experiences that I am eating up, and I feel hugely positive about the future now (as well as quietly bricking it about the time when these projects end and I am back looking for work again – the life of a freelancer will never be a steady and stable one.
I can now see that flexible, freelance work that you can work around your family is absolutely possible and is an option. You may have to do it around other jobs to keep a steady income stream, and you will definitely have to work hard to convince some companies to give flexible work a go, but its worth putting the effort in, as I really do think it is the way forward and more companies will soon start coming on board – they have to, it just makes sense.
Flexible work is much harder to find of course and it’s taken me a while to get to the point of having options and offers of flexi-work, and by no means am I out of the woods with job security, long contracts and pay anywhere near what I used to earn, but I have found work that feeds my soul and employers that understand that I am a mum and a great employee. It feels like I am starting to make work ‘work’ for me, as a mum, and as a professional.
You can hear more from Ceri on her blog:
and see more about the birthing classes she offers here: